‘Downton’s’ Mary faces new life

Michelle Dockery, a cast member in the Masterpiece series “Downton Abbey,” shares a laugh with executive producer Gareth Neame during a press tour.

— Lady Mary will be mired in grief as season four of “Downton Abbey” begins, mourning the loss of her husband, Matthew.

But a string of suitors awaits when she’s ready to live again, said Michelle Dockery, who plays Mary in the hit drama that will return to PBS’ “Masterpiece” in January.

“She’s kind of slowly throughout the series coming back to real life, and of course it’s important for her to eventually move on.”

All of those men are, she noted with satisfaction, handsome.

“That was stipulated by you,” executive producer Gareth Neame said, dryly.

He and several cast members including Dockery and Laura Carmichael, who plays Mary’s sister, Edith, attended a Television Critics Association news conference this week evening to promote the show.

Mary’s husband, played by Dan Stevens, was killed in a car crash just after welcoming the couple’s newborn son, George, in last season’s finale.

The fourth season of “Downton Abbey,” which follows the lives of the family and servants living in an English stately house, will include newcomers Paul Giamatti as an American relation and opera singer Kiri Te Kanawa.

The drama series, which started in 1912 and has been moving the calendar forward, is up to the early 1920s and reflects the world’s increasing modernity. A fifth season is planned, Neame said.

“The show is so popular around the world, it’s beloved and it’s in fine form,” he said. But he said he couldn’t envision following the characters as far as World War II.

Earlier, PBS said it is standing firm against airing “Downton Abbey” simultaneously with the drama’s U.K. run that begins several months earlier.

Despite the spoilers that leak online from its British run, the period drama has been a ratings hit for public TV, PBS chief executive Paula Kerger told the TV critics’ group.

Word-of-mouth from the British airing helps create buzz and promotion in advance of its PBS run, she said.

The show begins its fourth season in Britain this fall, with PBS airing it starting Jan. 5.